Fighting for auto shop

When Jasper Bivens and Aaron Pickering learned their favorite class was going to be cut, the two Ashland High School students decided they had to do something.

"We're receiving so much funding for art, music and all that," Bivens said. "I have no problem with that, but anybody can practice acting at home. Most people are not in a position to just go home and learn about cars."

In an effort to save their beloved auto shop, Bivens and Pickering took action, passing out petitions and gathering signatures from around the school and community .

The duo say they have collected more than a thousand to date in an effort to save the auto shop program — thanks in large part to the efforts of Pickering, who has taken it on himself to gather signatures after school. Bivens and Pickering said they are doing it partially for themselves and partially for the students who struggle with core classes like math and English, but have found their calling amid the controlled chaos of auto shop.

"Most of the people in this class are going to be moving on to some kind of automotive career," Pickering said. "So many of them would not be coming to school if it wasn't for auto."

Pickering's comment reflects the situation confronting many of his peers. Though it may not be ideal, classes like auto shop and welding keep a large group of students in school.

"This sounds kind of cliché, but it really keeps us out of trouble," Bivens said. "There's nothing like turning a wrench to vent some anger."

In April, the Ashland School Board decided to save one of the two current shop sections. The AHS duo could have claimed that small victory and moved on. Instead they ratcheted up their efforts, attempting to not only save the other shop class, but bring back welding — a 2007 budget casualty.

"Just from talking to students I can already tell that one mechanics class is not going to be enough," Bivens said.

In addition to signatures, Pickering is trying to secure private donations. He says the school needs $20,000 to save the other auto class and restore welding.

Instructor Mike Titus is proud of the effort his students have taken to save the class they love. Titus has spent the better part of three decades teaching auto mechanics at the high school. Technically retired, he comes back to AHS every other day to mentor his shop students, some of whom might already have dropped out, were not for him.

"The district is doing their best to try to maintain the school as a comprehensive high school," Titus said. "We don't want to put any undue pressure because there are so many cuts happening."

He watched quietly as his students rallied around their cause. Though he does not know what kind of effect their efforts will have, he understands the impact his class has on them, from the discipline it teaches to the employment opportunities it opens up.

"Most of the shops in town have former AHS students working there," he said.

Like Tom Clinkenbeard, a 2005 graduate. He has found a home at Siskiyou Imports, the local auto garage he has worked at for three years.

"Shop class is important for giving somebody that wants that blue-collar job at least a start there," Clinkenbeard said. "Not everybody that goes through high school is going to be able to get into a four-year college." He is one of the many former auto students working full time, bringing home a paycheck and taking pride in his work. He gives all the credit to his high school experience.

"I'm where I'm at because of Titus' class," he said. Clinkenbeard, Pickering, Bivens, and hundreds of others over multiple decades have taken valuable skills from the small auto shop, located near the AHS gym. While some students go through high school without ever setting foot in it, others make it through seemingly without leaving it. Bivens will graduate in June, and plans on moving to Southern California in the fall. He will not be around to see if his and Pickering's work pays off. But he says that is the furthest thing from his mind.

"I love this so much," he said. "I don't want to see it die."

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